Buffalo Yogaby Charles Wright
Never has Charles Wright's vision been more closely aligned with the work of the ancient Chinese painters and writers who inform his poetry than in his newest collection. Wright's short lyrics, in Charles Simic's words, "achieve a level of eloquence where the reader says to himself, if this is not wisdom, I don't know what is" (The New York Review of Books). The poems in Buffalo Yoga are pristine examples of the Tennessee poet's deft, painterly touch -- "crows in a caterwaul" are "scored like black notes in the bare oak" -- and of his oblique, expansive, and profound interrogation of mortality, as in the title sequence, where the soul is "a rhythmical knot. / That form unties. Or reties."
“[Wright] finds the sublime in the unlikeliest places, and at his best makes you think such places are exactly where to look.” William Logan, The New Criterion
- Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- First Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 5.64(w) x 8.58(h) x 0.76(d)
Read an Excerpt
By Charles Wright
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2004 Charles Wright
All rights reserved.
Landscape with Missing Overtones
The sun has set behind the Blue Ridge,
And evening with its blotting paper
lifts off the light.
Shadowy yards. Moon through the white pines.
There Is a Balm in Gilead
Crows in a caterwaul on the limb-laced edge of the afternoon,
Three scored like black notes in the bare oak across the street.
The past is a thousand-mile view I can't quite see the end of.
Heart-halved, I stare out the window to ease its medicine in.
* * *
Landscape's a local affliction that has no beginning and no end,
Here when we come and here when we go.
Like white clouds, our poems drift over it,
looking for somewhere to lie low.
They neither hinder nor help.
* * *
Night sky black water,
reservoir crow-black and sky-black,
Starless and Godless.
Cars trundle like glowworms across the bridge, angel-eyed,
The fish in the waters of heaven gleam like knives.
* * *
I write, as I said before, to untie myself, to stand clear,
To extricate an absence,
The ultimate hush of language,
(fricative, verb, and phoneme),
The silence that turns the silence off.
* * *
Butt-end of January, leaf-ash and unclaimed snow,
Cold blue of blue jay cutting down to the feeder box,
The morning lit with regret,
No trace of our coming, no trace of our going back.
Portrait of the Artist by Li Shang-Yin
My portrait is almost finished now
in the Book of White Hair.
Sunset over the Blue Ridge.
Puce floating cloud.
A minute of splendor is a minute of ash.
Everything's more essential in northern light, horses
Lie down in the dry meadow,
Clouds trail, like prairie schooners,
across the edge of the left horizon,
Swallows jackknife and swan dive,
Bees blip and flies croon, God with his good ear to the ground.
Everything's more severe, wind
At a standstill and almost visible in the tamaracks,
Golden sap on the lodgepole pine
mosaicked and Byzantine
Inside the day's cupola,
Cuneiform characters shadowed across the forest floor.
Everything seems immediate,
like splinters of the divine
Suddenly flecked in our fingertips,
Forbidden knowledge of what's beyond what we can just make out,
Saw grass blades in their willingness to dazzle and bend,
Mnemonic waters, jack snipe, nightjar.
* * *
God's ghost taps once on the world's window,
then taps again
And drags his chains through the evergreens.
Weather is where he came from, and to weather returns,
His backside black on the southern sky,
Mumbling and muttering, distance like doomsday loose in his hands.
* * *
The soul, as Mallarmé says, is a rhythmical knot.
That form unties. Or reties.
Each is its own music,
The dark spider that chords and frets, unstringing and stringing,
Instrument, shadowy air-walker,
A long lamentation,
poem whose siren song we're rocked by.
* * *
An article isn't the last word, although we'd like it so.
Always there will be others,
somewhere along the narrow road
That keeps on disappearing
just there, in the mountains.
* * *
As soon as I sat down, I forgot what I wanted to say.
Outside, the wind tore through the stiff trees
Like rips through fabric.
The bored hum of a lawn mower
Ebbed and flowed, white horse standing still in the near meadow,
No word in my ear, no word on the tip of my tongue.
It's out there, I guess,
Among the flowers and wind-hung and hovering birds,
And I have forgotten it,
dry leaf on a dry creek.
Memory's nobody's fool, and keeps close to the ground.
* * *
All my life I've listened for the dark speech of silence,
And now, every night,
I hear a slight murmur, a slow rush,
My blood setting out on its long journey beyond the skin.
* * *
Earlier lives are restlessly playing hide-and-seek
Among the bog lilies and slough grass.
In this late light, the deer seem a sort of Georg Trakl blue.
The pond dims, the lonely evening pond.
A dead face appears at the window, then disappears.
The sky returns to its room,
monk birds pull up their hoods.
This is how the evening begins,
arranging its black pieces
Across the landscape.
Enormous silence, like wind, blows south through the meadow grasses.
Everything else holds its breath.
Stars begin to appear as the night sky
sets out its own pieces, the white ones.
Its moves are not new, but they are inexorable, and cold.
* * *
The sun, like a golden octopus
out from its reef
Of clouds, or the clouds themselves, so transubstantiationally strange
In summer weather,
Or what's left of the evergreens in their stern vestments,
It's never the same day twice.
A poem is read by the poet, who then becomes
That poem himself
For a little while,
caught in its glistening tentacles.
The waters of deep remembering
Wash over him, clouds build up,
As do the shadowy pools
under the evergreens.
Later, the winds of forgetfulness
Blow in from a thousand miles away
And the poet starts to write.
This is the way the day moves,
and the sparks from its wheels.
* * *
He didn't have much to say, he thought,
but knew at least how to say it.
Cold comfort. Sunday,
The clouds in their summer whites,
The meadow a Paris green,
black and tan of the trees.
Sundays are no good, he thought, Sundays are all used up.
Poor miter, poor chasuble.
Mondays are worse still. Tuesday's the one,
So gentle, so pacified.
They flutter like flames, like feathers, from the brown calendars of the past.
Each of us has his day when the wind stops, and the clouds stop,
When everything grinds down and grains out.
Let mine be a Tuesday, he thought.
Let mine be always day-after-tomorrow.
* * *
Everything tends toward circumference, it seems — the world,
This life, and no doubt the next,
dependence and dear dread,
Even the universe in its spare parts.
As for me,
I'm ringed like a tree, stealthily, year by year, moving outward.
* * *
Time wears us down and away
Like bootheels, like water on glass,
like footfalls on marble stairs,
Step by slow step until we are edgeless and smoothed out.
And childhood is distant, as distant as the rings of Saturn.
Let loose of my hand, Time, just this once,
And walk behind me along the corridor, the endless one,
That leads to the place I have to go.
* * *
There's no erasing the false-front calligraphy of the past.
There's no expunging the way the land lies, and its windfall glare.
I never did get it right.
When the great spider of light unspools her links and chains,
May the past be merciful,
the landscape have pity on me —
Forgive me my words, forgive me my utterances.
* * *
The water is saying yes and yes in the creekbed.
Clouds have arrived, and last night's moon,
full moon, is a memory.
The wind picks its way through the tight trees
Slowly, as though not to break something.
Marsh snipe on top of the blue spruce.
Nothing in nature says no.
Like tiny ghost dancers, the lupine and Indian paintbrush
Stand still and send back their messages
Through the canyons and black arroyos under the earth.
White horses shade down the deer.
Out of the dank doors in the woods,
angels emerge with their bronze foreheads.
And always, beneath the sunlit trees,
The easy breath-pull of moss,
gondolas on the black canals
Ferrying back and forth
just under the forest floor
The shadows of those who go, and the shadows of those who stay,
Some standing, some sitting down.
* * *
Duckweed lies flat on the green water.
The white flags of two deer
rattle across the meadow.
Transparent riders appear through the spruce trees and set off for the south.
I stand on the near edge of the marsh and watch them disappear.
Like them, I would gladly close my mouth
and whisper to no one.
* * *
Wind whirls, and dust flies up in eddies.
Flowers rise up and fall,
trees buckle, and rise back up and fall.
Summer saddens and grows hot.
Bull snipe cackles in marsh mud.
Hawk corkscrews above the meadow,
then dwindles out in the overcast.
Sun back, then swallowed for good.
The world is dirty and dark.
Who thought that words were salvation?
We drift like water.
Whose life is it anyway?
* * *
A misericordia in the wind,
Hustling the silence horizonward,
Black keys from Rimbaud's piano in the Alps struck hard,
Then high tinkles from many white ones.
Then all of it gone to another room of the sky.
Thus do we pass our mornings,
or they pass us, waving,
In dark-colored clothes and sad farewells,
The music of melancholy short shrift on their tongues,
Slow sift for the hourglass.
Emptiness fills our fields,
new flowers rise from the dead.
The itchings for ultimate form,
the braiding of this and that
Together in some abstract design
Is what we're concerned about,
A certain inevitability, a certain redress.
And so we wait for afternoon, and a different weather.
We wait for the consolation of the commonplace,
The belt of light to buckle us in.
We wait for the counterpart,
the secretive music
That only we can hear, or we think that only we can hear.
Long afternoons and long, difficult evenings.
* * *
Wind from the northwest,
spilling over the edge from Canada.
Big wind. Many steps.
Red bug on the windowpane. This side.
Nothing's bothering him
As everything vertical outside
Bends left a lot, then less, then a lot.
Red feet, red wings,
A journey beyond the wide world's end, transparent, upside down,
A kind of feckless gesture, like words
We travel back and forth to, one by one,
down low and out of the wind.
* * *
American midnight, the full moon
Starting its dip behind the mountains.
Fatal as angels in the shadowy corners of the mind,
Flatter the landscape.
Everything seems to coalesce and disintegrate
a formal attribute of moonlight, one half
Of which we see, one half of which we maneuver not to see.
No longer interested in
the little deaths of fixed forms,
Their bottled formaldehyde,
We follow the narrow road that disappears in the mountains,
We follow the stations of the tongue,
Arc and trailhead,
the blaze on the tree.
Look for us soon on the other side
Where the road tumbles down,
curving into the invisible city.
Excerpted from Buffalo Yoga by Charles Wright. Copyright © 2004 Charles Wright. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Charles Wright, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the National Book Award, teaches at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >